Cecil John Rhodes
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Cecil John Rhodes
Cecil John Rhodes
Lion heads from Rhodes Memorial        

'Despite all that has been written about Rhodes, there is one great side of his character - in a sense his whole character - to which nothing like justice has been done....It is the human Rhodes, the man himself that one fails to find in all the books about his work.'

Sir Percy Fitzpatrick

Where books have so far failed, this website hopes to succeed. Apart from a brief biographical sketch of the main events in Rhodes' life, this website contains little in the way of dry, historical facts. Its aim, quite simply, is to evoke something of Rhodes' essential spirit and glamour.

In many ways, the spirit of Rhodes is inseparable from Cape Town, the city in which he lived, and Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, the country he eventually founded. His great friend, Rudyard Kipling, no doubt felt this when he wrote the epitaph that is now carved in stone at Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town:

"The immense and brooding spirit still
Shall quicken and control.
Living he was the land and dead
His soul shall be her soul."

When Rhodes died, more than 30,000 residents of Cape Town flocked to his Groote Schuur residence to file past his coffin as he lay in state over the Easter weekend. And for many years afterwards, March 26 - the day he died - was known as Rhodes' Day. To commemorate the occasion, hundreds of thousands of people in South Africa and Rhodesia would wear a sprig of blue plumbago - Rhodes' favourite flower - on their lapels.

What was it about this man that inspired such intense devotion, and which moved one journalist of the time to write 'a belief in Rhodes became a substitute for religion'? Through the words and images assembled here, you will hopefully experience not only something of the soul of this extraordinary man, but also something of the ancient soul of Africa.

A scene from the BBC drama on Rhodes' life.

Cecil John Rhodes was born on July 5, 1853 in Bishop's Stortford, England where his father was a pastor. One of nine children, he developed a tubercular lung condition in his teens and doctors advised his parents to send him out to South Africa so as to benefit from the country's drier, healthier climate.
In 1870, at the age of 17, the sickly youth sailed off to South Africa where he joined his elder brother Herbert, who was trying his hand at cotton farming in the coastal region of Natal. In the same year, diamonds - which had been discovered for the first time in South Africa two years before - were suddenly being found in staggering quantities in the Kimberley area, 800km inland. Lured by dreams of instant fortunes, he and Herbert trekked across the veld in 1871 and joined in the frenzied diamond rush that was attracting tens of thousands of fortune hunters and adventurers from all over the world.

Rhodes quickly proved himself to be an astute businessman and was instrumental in amalgamating the major mining interests of Kimberley into one organisation, De Beers, which he finally established in 1880 and which has monopolised the global diamond industry ever since.

During his nine years at Kimberley, Rhodes travelled back and forth to Oxford University in England, finally obtaining his degree in 1881. While at Oxford, he developed a burning ambition to devote himself to expanding the British Empire, and regarded the wealth he was making from diamonds as being the means by which he would achieve his dreams.

After his election as a member of the Cape Parliament in 1880, much of Rhodes' irrepressible energy was directed towards his expansionary plans - his ultimate dream being 'to paint the map red' from 'Cape to Cairo.' (Red being the colour used by map-makers to show British territories.) In 1889 he formed the British South Africa Company and obtained a Royal Charter from the British Government to occupy Mashonaland to the north.

In 1890 he took office as Prime Minister of the Cape, and in the same year his 'Pioneer Column' of soldiers and settlers marched northwards under the guidance of the famous English hunter, Frederick Selous. On September 11 the column planted the Union Jack deep in Mashonaland at what became Fort Salisbury - named after the ruling British prime minister. Within three years, neighbouring Matabeleland had been subjugated and in 1894 these territories were united under the name of Rhodesia.

A major obstacle to Rhodes' expansionary plans was the Transvaal Republic which had been established in 1860 by Boers who, having become frustrated with the oppressive interference of their British rulers in the Cape, had undertaken a 'Great Trek' northwards in the late 1830s. The Transvaal Republic was of little interest to anyone but their own predominantly farming citizens - until 1887 that is, when fabulously rich gold reefs were discovered in the Witwatersrand area.

Tens of thousands of foreigners, many of them English, subsequently poured into the Transvaal to seek their fortunes. Its Afrikaner president, Paul Kruger, refused to grant these 'uitlanders' (aliens) meaningful political rights, and Rhodes - who saw the continued autonomy of the Republic as an insurmountable obstacle to his plans of northward expansion - secretly conspired to overthrow the Boer-dominated government. He organised his close friend, Dr Leander Jameson, to lead a column of armed men to Pretoria with the aim of triggering an insurrection against President Kruger's government.

President Paul Kruger as he appears on the Krugerrand, the world's most popular gold bullion coin. One of South Africa's biggest unsolved mysteries is the whereabouts of the 'Kruger Millions' - a huge cache of gold belonging to the Transvaal Republic which is believed to have accompanied President Kruger when he retreated from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques (Maputo) at the end of the Anglo-Boer War.The 'Kruger Millions' are thought to have been hidden somewhere along the route.

The Jameson Raid, which took place in December 1895, was a complete fiasco and resulted in a polarisation of animosity between Englishman and Boer throughout the country. Rhodes was severely censured by the British government for his involvement and forced to resign his premiership of the Cape.

In the aftermath of the Jameson Raid, Rhodes spent much of this time up in Rhodesia, where he devoted himself to the development of his beloved country. Tensions had been rapidly building up between Rhodes' pioneers and the country's indigenous Shona and Matabele population. They eventually rose up in armed revolt against the white settlers, resulting in widespread loss of life. In 1896 - in what was undoubtedly his finest hour - Rhodes and three companions rode, unarmed, deep into a Matabele stronghold in the Matopo Hills to negotiate for peace.

As they made their way through a vast, rocky amphitheatre filled with thousands of silently watching warriors, Rhodes remarked to one of his companions: 'This is one of those moments in life that makes it worth living.' After much deliberation with the Matabele indunas, Rhodes convinced them to lay down their arms.

A bronze bust of Rhodes - one of the many items on display at his beachside cottage which is now a public museum.
  In October 1899, tensions between the British and the Boers finally resulted in the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. Rhodes was in Kimberley at the time and was trapped there during a four month siege by 5,000 Boers. As well as playing an important role in the defence of Kimberley - most of whose citizens were employed by his De Beers company - he even had his workshops manufacture a special artillery piece, called 'Long Cecil', to help ward off the attackers.

Rhodes, who had a troublesome heart for much of his life, passed away at his beachside cottage in Cape Town on March 26, 1902 at the age of only 48. He died just two months before the end of the Anglo-Boer War, a conflict that had been partly precipitated by the political tensions resulting from the Jameson Raid. At the time of his death, Rhodes had been instrumental in bringing almost one million square miles of Africa under British domination.

Dream weaver  |  Bygone voices  |  Artist's impression  |  Brooding spirit
Secret society  |  Table Mountain  |  Falcon god  |  Eternal boy
So little time  |  Silver crown  |  Great Zimbabwe  |  Author/E-mail

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